Board delays funding decision for struggling organizations

The Southold Town Board on Tuesday argued over a request from the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation for immediate financial help as the group deals with record numbers of people seeking food, housing and other assistance.

After a lengthy and often heated exchange, board members said the request for financial assistance would be further studied by the town comptroller and town attorney, with the goal of setting up a program for groups such as CAST who work with town residents to apply for assistance and receive it in January.

For those who attended the Tuesday work session hoping help organizations would receive immediate financial help, the decision to push it forward was painful.

“We are in a genuine crisis, with record numbers of people seeking assistance,” Cathy Demeroto said after the meeting. “Help is needed now.”

Last month, Ms. Demeroto requested $100,000 in aid from the town board at a budget hearing, citing alarming statistics about what CAST is now seeing at its Southold headquarters. This year, CAST is serving more than 900 unique families — 2,265 individuals — including 864 children and 124 adults over the age of 65.

After a morning filled with discussions about other topics, the board turned to the financial request and was soon engaged in a heated back and forth between members. While agreeing on almost nothing, board members appeared to agree that help organizations who do work in Southold — but are not necessarily headquartered in the town — could also apply for financial assistance, including CAST. 

At one point, Supervisor Scott Russell said he would be willing to increase the amount that would go to help organizations to $250,000. What the board went back and forth on was how and when to do it, with Mr. Russell and Jill Doherty advocating for a system for accounting for how the money would be spent before any checks could be written.

“We have an obligation to do this properly,” Ms. Doherty said.

Board members Greg Doroski and Sarah Nappa were the most vocal on getting CAST and other groups help sooner rather than later.

“My concern is pushing this off until next year, when CAST has expended their emergency money now,” said Mr. Doroski. “Where are people who need help supposed to go? If we kick this to next year, what happens until then? We should announce a program now.”

“We need the financial mechanism in place first,” countered Ms. Doherty. In response to that, Ms. Nappa said, “We can’t wait until that is done. We need this done before the end of the year.”

“If it’s $100,000 to the entire [help] community, how do we divide it up?” Mr. Russell asked. “Let’s come up with a schedule on how to divide it up.”

To that, Mr. Doroski, who said he wanted funds laid out for groups providing food and housing assistance, said, “I want to simplify this now and make it as transparent as possible. This is our responsibility. I don’t want to overcomplicate it.”

It was left that next week some board members would meet with the town comptroller and attorney to draft a letter to help organizations asking for their needs. Once that has been received, the board could possibly authorize payments in January.

Ms. Demeroto left no doubt at the meeting that the need is great. 

“We are in a crisis,” she told the board. “Our meals served is up 800%. I am $400,000 over budget … I can’t tell you how many people come in for food and rent assistance. We are out of assistance funds. It is critical for the government to help the nonprofits for this urgent need.”